United States v. Burke, 504 U.S. 229, 22 (1992)

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250

UNITED STATES v. BURKE

O'Connor, J., dissenting

nature of the inquiry required by 104(a)(2) and the IRS regulation. The question whether Title VII suits are based on the same sort of rights as a tort claim must be answered with reference to the nature of the statute and the type of claim brought under it.

Title VII makes employment discrimination actionable without regard to contractual arrangements between employer and employee. Functionally, the law operates in the traditional manner of torts: Courts award compensation for invasions of a right to be free from certain injury in the workplace. Like damages in tort suits, moreover, monetary relief for violations of Title VII serves a public purpose beyond offsetting specific losses. "It is the reasonably certain prospect of a backpay award that 'provide[s] the spur or catalyst which causes employers and unions to self-examine and to self-evaluate their employment practices and to endeavor to eliminate, so far as possible, the last vestiges of [discrimination].' " Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody, 422 U. S. 405, 417-418 (1975) (quoting United States v. N. L. Industries, Inc., 479 F. 2d 354, 379 (CA8 1973)).

Such a scheme fundamentally differs from contract liability, which "is imposed by the law for the protection of a single, limited interest, that of having the promises of others performed." W. Prosser, Law of Torts 5 (4th ed. 1971). Title VII liability also is distinguishable from quasi-contractual liability, which "is created for the prevention of unjust enrichment of one man at the expense of another, and the restitution of benefits which in good conscience belong to the plaintiff." Ibid. It is irrelevant for purposes of Title VII that an employer profits from discriminatory practices; the purpose of liability is not to reassign economic benefits to their rightful owner, but to compensate employees for injury they suffer and to "eradicat[e] discrimination throughout the economy." Albemarle Paper, supra, at 421.

This Court has found statutory causes of action for discrimination analogous to tort suits on prior occasions, but

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